Edmonton

Seniors' advocate bill passes committee but NDP doubts it will be debated

A bill creating an independent seniors' advocate made it through a legislature committee on Tuesday, but the NDP MLA behind Bill 215 doubts it will ever get debated. 

5 private members bills ahead of Bill 215 on order paper

Edmonton-Riverview MLA Lori Sigurdson introduced a bill to create an independent office of the senior's advocate. (Scott Neufeld/CBC )

A bill creating an independent seniors' advocate made it through an Alberta legislature committee on Tuesday, but the NDP MLA behind Bill 215 doubts it will ever get debated. 

"I think there is some cynicism at work here on the part of the UCP members [on the committee]," said Edmonton-Riverview MLA Lori Sigurdson, the opposition critic for seniors and housing. 

"The meeting was quite hostile. The UCP refused to allow seniors to be invited to speak to the bill but they voted for it anyway presumably on the assumption that it will never be debated in the house." 

Last week, Sigurdson introduced Bill 215, the Seniors Advocate Act, which would create a new independent office of the legislative assembly, similar to the Child and Youth Advocate. 

In late 2019, the United Conservative government merged the existing seniors' advocate position with the health patient advocate officer. The current health advocate is Janice Harrington, a former executive director of the Progressive Conservative and United Conservative parties. She reports directly to Health Minister Tyler Shandro. 

Sigurdson said Harrington has been silent throughout the pandemic, which has seen hundreds of seniors in long-term and continuing care facilities fall ill or die of COVID-19. She believes an advocate independent of the health minister would have advocated more openly for change. 

In Tuesday's question period, Shandro dismissed Sigurdson's questions about whether his government would support her bill. 

"In the middle of the pandemic, the focus for the NDP is to grandstand about a single former public servant and whether they have an office called the Seniors' Advocate or the Health Advocate and which department the advocate works in," he said. 

Private members bills in Alberta are introduced for first reading and forwarded to the legislature committee on private bills and private members public bills. Committee members debate the merits of a bill before agreeing to send it back to the legislature for additional debate. 

Dropping off the order paper

However, there are five private members bills ahead of Sigurdson's on the order paper. Sigurdson believes time will run out on the spring sitting before it is debated, and she suspects the government will prorogue the current session before MLAs meet again in the fall. That means any bills that haven't been passed are dropped from the legislative agenda. 

Bill 214, the Eastern Slopes Protection, a private members bill from NDP Leader Rachel Notley, may meet a similar fate. 

Last week, the same MLA committee sent Notley's bill back to the legislature. Until that point, the UCP majority on the committee has blocked NDP bills from returning to the floor for second reading. 

During Tuesday's committee meeting, UCP MLAs defended the merger of the two offices as a cost-saving measure that made services more efficient.

They also pushed Sigurdson on why she didn't create an independent office when she was minister of seniors and housing under the previous government. 

Sigurdson said creating the seniors' advocate position while the NDP was in government was the first step but that she ran out of time to make it an independent office as proposed in her bill. 

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